Homosexuality in "Ásatrú"

By Christopher Bjørnsen

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Folkish people love to refer to some excerpt from Germania by Tacticus, which suggests homosexuality was condemned by some Germanic tribes. They also point at the finding of two male mummies in the Weerdinge bog in The Netherlands, claiming they were killed because they were homosexual. They further appear convinced that they know the meaning of Old Norse texts better than anybody else, including those of us who actually understand Old Norse.

First, it is important to know that such Germanic tribes precede the Vikings by close to a millennium, and while they may have been some of our ancestors indeed, a lot can happen in close to a thousand years (look at Ireland, 10 years ago they hated homosexuals, now the vast majority of the population supports same-sex marriage to the extent it became law by referendum). Essentially, one cannot reasonably expect we Víkingar would have followed the ways (whatever they may have been) of some ancient tribe after so much time had passed!

As for the mummies themselves, Folkish people claim they were killed because they were homosexual, but many scholars have a different explanation: a warrior killed in battle was buried with... his male partner!

Finally, people who do not speak the language, namely Old Norse, cannot possibly pretend to remotely comprehend the actual meaning of various historical texts and materials, especially when their very understanding of Norse culture in the first place appears to be more than limited.

Claiming that Norse Ásatru is the same as Folkish Germanic Paganism, anyway, just because both share the same origin, would be like saying on one hand that Christianity and Islam are the exact same religion because they both originally branched out of the same idea, and on the other hand, that concepts and beliefs do not evolve with time... in this case, close to 1,000 years. 

The reality is, homophobia is an archaic concept possibly embraced by Germanic tribes a millennium before Viking times, and which was never part of Norse Ásatrú, or Norse history, culture, and traditions. It is merely an idea based on Christian morality standards, and/or neo-nazism. 

In Viking times, homosexuality was only stigmatized during the forced Christianization of Scandinavia. As a matter of fact, there was no term in Old Norse for sexual orientation. While a lack of manliness or the display of otherwise feminine features in a man (as shown in many insult terms such as mare, argr, or sansorðinn) was definitely a major issue in Viking culture, it was unrelated to sexual orientation.

Moreover, it was customary for Vikings to rape enemies who had lost battles, both male and female, and sexual control was also a method for keeping þrælar in line. 

Sexual liberalism, and a generalized disregard for the concept of sexual orientation, was also demonstrated in burial rituals in Viking times. Typically, one or more slaves would be killed to accompany a jarl in the after death, and to help him with his every day after life. Before being killed, however, several of the hirðmenn would take turn having sex with the slave(s) so their semen, a vehicle for their strength, would be carried in the afterlife for the benefit of their jarl. Of course, the slaves were both male and female, and the same ritual would be performed on all slaves, with no regard for their gender.

In more general terms, the sexual liberalism of Norse people was also frequently demonstrated in more recent times. While the State of Texas was still criminalizing homosexuality, Nordic countries had long legalized same-sex marriage, and were actually the first countries in the world to do so.

We should also all remember that Loki turned himself into a mare in order to be impregnated by a stallion, to eventually give birth to Sleipnir! While Loki certainly isn't the Norse god with the most virtues, the fact that Óðinn took Sleipnir as his beloved horse, clearly shows that Loki's behavior certainly wasn't an issue for the gods... 

On one last note, Vikings evolved with their times, and unquestionably deviated from the ways of some archaic Germanic tribes that preceded them by close to one thousand years. In our modern society, we have ourselves evolved from the Viking era: We no longer rape the enemies we defeat, we no longer raid other countries for their wives and wealth, and we no longer enslave our neighbors. Evolution of ideas and beliefs is simply a fundamental aspect of our species.

At the end of the day, Folkish "Heathens" are of course free to believe anything they want. Because their freedom abruptly ends when our freedom starts, however, they should refrain from pushing their views onto the people at NØRSKK, The Víkinga Order, Ásatrúarfélagið, or any other organization that does not share their views. We, as individuals, decide what we believe in, and how we live our lives. 

Christopher Bjørnsen

Tromsø, Norway